We may spend a lot of time studying older music, but participants in the field of musicology are always coming up with new ideas! Some of these ideas are more abstract, but others can have a direct impact on how we at NEC play music. Here are a couple of examples:

Source studies. Musicologists are constantly engaged in a process of understanding exactly what composers wrote, what musicians performed, and what audiences heard and felt. Would it surprise you to learn that many—most—works of classical music exist in multiple versions? The idea of an “Urtext”—a single, most accurate version of a work—is outdated now! Musicologists dig up information about the sources and circumstances of performances of old artworks, offering new models for performance today.

New interpretations. One of our jobs is figuring out what music means to people—in the past and today, in our own society and in societies across the world. How is music used in culture? How does it reflect the needs, concerns, and aspirations of the people who make it? Many musicologists in the past have had a narrow view of the kind of music that counts—the music worth considering. Today, musicologists try to take a more objective view, considering music of all kinds—even (or perhaps especially) music that has been neglected in the past. The version of history that we tell makes a big difference! In the Musicology Department we encourage students to seek out non-standard repertoires, which pushes them to program their own concerts differently.

Ideas and Culture. Musicology sees music as an integral part of society and therefore intricately connected to events, attitudes, styles, and cultural shifts surrounding it.  It can be exhilarating to notice the same structural thinking and aesthetic ideals manifested in both Picasso’s cubism and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; and to observe changes in society’s thinking about gender and race that enabled Marian Anderson to be the first African-American woman to sing at the Met.

Performance practice. Think you know how to read music? Try this one: When Mozart wrote a half-note in 4/4 time, how long did he want the note to be played? The answer is not “two beats.” In courses in the Musicology Department we read performance manuals by composers and their contemporaries with a view to understanding exactly how they meant their music to be executed. What could be more relevant for Conservatory students?

New light on improvisation. NEC is home to a rich culture of improvisation, especially because of our vibrant Jazz  and Contemporary Improvisation  departments. In the Department of Musicology we seek to amplify the culture of improvisation at the Conservatory by stressing the long-standing traditions of improvisation in Western art music and non-Western music. The notes on the page in front of you only tell a small fraction of the story. We encourage our students to think outside the text.

Learn more. Want to keep up with the latest in the field of musicology? Here are some of our favorite journals and web pages [COMING SOON].